"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Gaillardia: The Blanket Flower or Firewheel

From “Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower): Handsome perennial and biennial herbs including some of the showiest flowers, valuable for their long duration both on the plants and in a cut state. The genus numbers some half a dozen across, the ray florets having an outer zone of orange-yellow and an inner one of brownish-red, while the centre is deep bluish-purple. It is the commonest kind, and having been raised largely from seed, has many varieties, differing more or less widely from the type, with various names….

G. picta somewhat resembles G. aristata, but has smaller flowers, and is a biennial. It is dwarfer, and its flowers are brighter. G. amblyodon is a beautiful Texan annual, introduced a few years ago. Its flowers are even smaller than those of G. picta, and are of a deep cinnabar red.

“Gaillardias in many soils soon exhaust themselves by their flowering, and should be renewed periodically from seed, the seedlings being most vigorous and free…. All thrive in good friable garden soil, but not on a cold stiff soil or on one that is too light or dry. Where possible they should be grown in bold groups, for they thrive better if so placed than as solitary plants in a parched border, and no plants have a finer effect in a bed by themselves….”

From “Gaillardia” in Flowers and Their Histories by Alice M. Coats:

“The gaillardias, in spite of their French name (after M. Gaillard de Marentonneau, a patron of botany), are natives of North America, whence we have received so many yellow-rayed compositesCoreopses, Heleniums, Rudbeckias, Heliopses, Sunflowers and Goldenrods — that we might be justified in believing that continent to be paved with gold. The gaillardias, however, mix their gold with blood, and Willa Cather speaks of Nebraskan pastures where one of the species ‘matted over the ground with the deep velvety red that is in Bokhara carpets‘….

“The three kinds most usually met with in gardens are the red and yellow
G. pulcella (syn. G. bicolor, 1787), perennial although usually treated as an annual, and parent of many garden varieties; the perennial yellow G. aristata, sent by [David] Douglas from the Rocky Mountains about 1826; and G. amblyodon, a red annual from Texas and New Mexico, collected by [Ferdinand] Lindheimer in 1844 and again by [Thomas] Drummond the following year. The name of Blanket Flower was probably given to G. pulcella on account of its grey woolly leaves; but the flower might very well recall the gay colours and zig-zag patterns of the Indian blankets of its native land, and one of the garden varieties is aptly named Indian Chief….”

From “Another Autumn” in How Far Light Must Travel: Poems  by Judi K. Beach:

Now another autumn holds what warmth it can
for as long as possible, as I want to hold onto him
to keep winter away. Last night the hard frost
picked the last delphinium, and the final pair
of gaillardia probably will not respond
to the warm breath of day. Every garden row
is raised in a brown silhouette. Today
orange blazes everywhere….


On the same trip to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens where I discovered the Cosmos flowers that I wrote about previously (see Discovering Cosmos), I also found another plant that I had never seen before. The red and yellow-tipped flowers below are Gaillardia variants; most likely, I think, Gaillardia pulchella — which is known by several other common names (including “Blanket Flower”), but my favorite is the very descriptive name “Firewheel.”

From the book excerpts at the top of this post, you can learn a little about the characteristics of this plant, its history, and its distribution. When I was processing these photos in Lightroom, I originally thought the blue highlights that you can see in some of the flowers’ centers were artifacts, possibly even a reflection off the blue coat I was wearing, so I removed the blue color. Then I saw the description from The English Flower Garden — “the centre is deep bluish-purple” — and I put the blue highlights back!

Thanks for taking a look!

Discovering Cosmos

From “Cosmos” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

“Cosmos: Mexican plants allied to the Dahlia….

C. bipinnatus is a handsome annual, 3 feet to 5 feet high, having finely-divided, feathery foliage, and large Dahlia-like bright red-purple blossoms, with yellow centres. It is best raised a tender annual by sowing the seeds in February or March in a heated frame, and transplanting in May in good, rich soil with a warm exposure….

“It flowers from August to October, is good for grouping with bold and graceful annuals. There are now varieties rose, white, purple, and orange.
C. atropurpurea, called the ‘Black Dahlia,’ is a handsome plant with nearly black flowers, thriving in ordinary soil.”

From “All Around the World” in The Origin of Plants by Maggie-Campbell Culver:

“From Mexico in 1799 came two near relations of the Dahlia: Cosmos bipinnatus (with leaves arranged like a feather) and C. sulphureus…. The seed had first arrived in Spain, and as with the Zinnia had been sent to England by the Marchioness of Bute. A further pair crossed the Atlantic in 1835, C. diversifolius and one that shows how simple it is for plants to drift away out of fashion and out of nursery catalogues unless they are continually loved and nurtured: C. atrosanguineus, the deliciously chocolate-scented dark maroon annual from Mexico….

“The seed was received in 1835 by William Thompson (1823-1903), who had earlier founded a nursery at Ipswich (which later became the world-famous firm of Thompson and Morgan). The plant made an immediate impact, with its dramatic deep maroon colour, and was widely grown, but despite being admired — and commented on by such plantsmen as E. A. Bowles (1865-1954) — and receiving an RHS Award of Merit in 1938, it fell out of favour. It was only at the very end of the twentieth century that it was ‘rescued’ and recovered its self-esteem to flourish again in our English gardens.”

From “The Cosmos Flower” by Kishiko Wakayama in An Anthology of Japanese Poems, translated by Asataro Miyamori:

Oh, that I,
     In my demeanour,
Might be like the modest single-petalled
     Cosmos flower!


Here we have nineteen photos of three varieties of an annual flowering plant called Cosmos, which I stumbled upon while photographing zinnias and asters this fall at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. It fascinates me that despite making so many photo-trips to these gardens over several years now, there are still discoveries to be made — as I’d never seen these Cosmos before, yet they were just a few feet from spots I’ve stomped around in repeatedly.

There were only a handful of Cosmos plants blooming in a plot of short grass by themselves (so I photographed all of them), though empty stems nearby suggested I might have discovered them at the end of their flowering time. Having now learned a little about this plant, its history, and some of its varieties — briefly covered by the quotation from The Origin of Plants up-top — I’m curious about whether or not the “Black Dahlia” variant (Cosmos atrosanguineus, originally Cosmos atropurpurea) might have been blooming there earlier. I’ll have to try again next year, since the plants have done their late fall disappearing act (as plants do!) — but click here if you would like to see some images of the “Black Dahlia” Cosmos from around the web.

Cosmos is in the Aster family Asteraceae, and these have the typical composite structure of individual florets and tiny seeds. The white and orange varieties look like they’d already ejected seeds from their florets, leaving some of them to look like miniature flying buttresses. Whether those seeds generate another batch of Cosmos next year remains to be seen: it’s not unusual for plants considered annuals in the Southeast to behave more like perennials if we have a mild winter.

In the photos of the purple Cosmos and in the last three photos of the orange ones, you can see their thin, delicate stems and leaves, some as thin as pieces of string or as wispy as ferns — “feathery” as described in the quotations above. The slightest breeze — and some photo-bombing wasps hunting for pollen — sent the flowers bouncing like acrobats, delightful to watch but requiring some patience to photograph. And one of the wasps seemed to match its colors to the orange flowers — so I didn’t realize it was there until the very last stages of working on these photos. See if you can find it!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Pink Painted Pyrethrum, or Persian Daisies (2 of 2)

From “Autumn Composites” in My Garden in Autumn and Winter by E. A. Bowles:

“It is about the third week in September that the Asters in the pergola garden are at their best, and if the Vines on the vine pergola are doing their duty that season and have coloured well, the contrasts of colour are beautiful on a sunny day. A row of the lovely rosy-pink Aster… crosses the front of one of the square beds, hiding up the plots of bare ground where the Daffodils reigned in the Spring. Though the colour of this delightful variety is charming at all times, it glows out with an extra charm just at sunset, and increases in beauty every minute until the light has faded almost away….”

From “Border Flowers: Pyrethrum” in Flowers and Their Histories by Alice M. Coats:

“From the early days of its cultivation it was known that this plant was a principal ingredient in the manufacture of Persian insect-powder; and its near relation, P. cinerarifolia, was used for the same purpose in Dalmatia. The powder is produced from the flower-heads, which are cut just as they are about to open, carefully dried, and pulverized; and Pyrethrum-powder as an insecticide has become of increasing importance in the present century. Pyrethrums are grown for this purpose in Kenya, and were considered a crop of the first priority during the last war, for their value in the control of insect pests and the prevention of typhus and other insect-spread diseases.

“The pyrethrums are closely related to the chrysanthemums…. The Greek name comes from
pyr, meaning fire, and was originally given to a plant with a hot, biting root…. The root of this plant was formerly used as a cure for toothache….”


This is the second of two posts featuring photos of Tanacetum coccineum — commonly known as Painted Daisies, Persian Daisies, or (once upon a time) Pyrethrum. The first post is Pink Painted Pyrethrum, or Persian Daisies (1 of 2).

When I took this batch of photos, the sun had slipped behind some thin clouds, keeping shadows intact yet darkening the scene just a bit. The added saturation made many of these flowers even pinker than the previous pink ones. And — check it out! — the last one is waving “Goodbye” to you!

Thanks for taking a look!

Pink Painted Pyrethrum, or Persian Daisies (1 of 2)

From “Pink” in The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair:

“The word pink itself is relatively young….

“The first reference in the
Oxford English Dictionary of the word being used to describe pale reds is the late seventeenth century. Before then pink usually referred to a kind of pigment….

“Pink pigments were made by binding an organic colorant, such as buckthorn berries or an extract of the broom shrub, to an inorganic substance like chalk, which gave it body. They came in several colors — you could have green pinks, rose pinks, or brown pinks — but were, more often than not, yellow. It is an odd quirk that while light reds acquired a name of their own, pale greens and yellows did not for the most part (although several languages, including Russian, do have different words for pale and deep blues). Most romance languages made do with a variation of the word rose, from the flower….

“Although it is not certain, it is likely that the English derived their word for the color from another flower, the
Dianthus plumarius, also known as the Pink.”

From “The Narrow Border” in Cuttings from My Garden Notebooks by Graham Stuart Thomas:

“I have in mind a long narrow border of which the only views are from end to end because, although there is a grass walk to stand on while appreciating it, there is also a hedge completely sealing off all frontal views. Passing behind the hedge, therefore, one uses the grass walk as a means of viewing the border from end to end. Along the front is an edging of Catmint (Nepeta X faassenii), which if clipped over in July will remain in respectable bloom until the autumn, contributing its greyish leaves and soft lavender flowers to almost any colour grouping. Behind it are pyrethrums, irises and lupins, all for June display. Pyrethrums (Tanacetum coccineum) have good parsley-like foliage until autumn….”


It can be a challenge to determine the names of some of the Asters I’ve been photographing, but I think I’ve correctly identified these very, very pink ones as the somewhat unpronounceable Tanacetum coccineum — commonly described by the easier-to-say names Pyrethrum, or Painted Daisies, or Persian Daisies. Even if I’ve gotten it wrong, they’re definitely pink! And the first one is waving “Hello!” to you!

Thanks for taking a look!

White Asters / Shasta Daisies (2 of 2)

From “Best of Show” in The Reason For Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

“Almost everyone knows about Luther Burbank (1849–1926) and his russet Burbank potato, especially ardent fans of McDonald’s french fries. Making hand crosses in the manner of traditional plant breeding, Burbank, ‘the wizard of horticulture,’ created dozens of new varieties of fruits and vegetables, along with the much-beloved Shasta daisy and ninety-one other types of ornamental plants….

“Curiously, hybrid plant origins were something horticulturists often tried to conceal in the not-so-good-old days. In parts of Western Europe and America, hybrid plants were often regarded as ungodly, or certainly at least unnatural and to be avoided. Prideful man was not permitted to ape his Creator by producing a new kind of living thing….

“This sounds ridiculous today, but even Luther Burbank told a story about how a minister, posing as Burbank’s friend, denounced him from the pulpit for flouting God’s laws by creating hybrids. It seems that Burbank’s Shasta daisy, proudly grown in American gardens for more than a century, is not so innocent a bloom despite its many, pure-white ‘chaste’ petals.”

From “Adolescent Garden” in Red Clay by Eve Hoffman:

My garden is five years old, orderly and raucous,
blurring the line between what we planted and
what God planted….

A modest magnolia on the edge of the woods, an elm
growing so fast its limbs have been raised twice.
Oak leaf and lace cap hydrangeas
the deer pruned down to the ground when first
planted. White and purple beauty berries, tiny pale
blue butterflies. Red rhododendron blossoms
the size of white peonies next to them, blue iris….

Echinacea, shasta daisies,
bushes with berries that invite birds and tree branches
that fork to hold nests….

Summer wasps and weeds, wildness to be tamed,
plants surrendering to the Georgia heat.
And in the season of no blossoms
hortus botanicus of texture and green.


This is the second of two posts with photographs of Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum) that I recently took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The first post — with photos AND math — is White Asters / Shasta Daisies (1 of 2).

Thanks for taking a look!